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Psychology Ph.D. Student Researches Alcohol-Use Mixed with Social Media Exposure

By Tiffany Whitfield

Countless studies have been conducted on the effects of drinking and driving. However, what are the effects of drinking alcohol along with constant exposure to it on social media? The influences of social media and alcohol use are at the heart of Old Dominion University's Psychology Ph.D. candidate Megan Strowger's research.

Strowger, a third year Health Psychology Ph.D. student, along with her advisor, Abby Braitman, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, are studying the behavior of ODU students as it relates to alcohol use and social media exposure.

"We know from research that a lot of times your friends influence your behavior, specifically among college students," said Strowger. "We also know that seeing content online and positive consequences of drinking (having fun) have been related to increased alcohol and leads to negative consequences over time."

Historically, research on alcohol consumption and social media exposure have been studied separately. "My research fills this gap by looking at how the alcohol content shared by specific friends affects the viewers' own drinking behaviors, said Strowger. "The algorithms are affecting what kind of content users see, like, comment on, and it's affecting who users are seeing that content from."

ODU students who participated in the study were asked to list the top 10 most important people in their lives. From this list, Strowger quantified how the participants not only interacted online, but how their interaction influenced their drinking behaviors. "I'm merging how online users and their exposure to content online impact drinking," said Strowger.

"When we looked at the qualities of people in their social networks, we found that having more people who were drinking buddies and shared alcohol content, predicted greater frequency of drinking," said Strowger. "The alcohol content shared by people you drink with in-person affected the frequency of alcohol consumption."

"Her social media research is very timely," said Braitman. "With everything in the news about the impact of Facebook and Instagram on adolescent mental health, now is a great time to examine and highlight the impact of close friends' social media posts on college drinking."

Participants in the study were ODU college students who were enrolled in Psychology classes, and they received research credits for their participation. Students in the study were asked specific questions about their alcohol consumption, qualities of who is in their social network, and what social media platforms they regularly used.

"My research found that exposure to social media content showing alcohol, or its affects shared specifically by ODU students' important peers was related to their drinking more heavily," said Strowger. "The next steps from this research will flow well into my dissertation looking a little deeper to how alcohol-related content and being exposed from your friends affects your drinking over time."

Social network research is what attracted Strowger to ODU. When she was looking for doctoral programs in Psychology, she was trying to find a program where researchers were focusing on alcohol and substance misuse among college students. "I thought I could make an impact on the lives of college students to try and help them live healthier lives and not develop substance use disorders," said Strowger. "I was interested in my advisor (Braitman's) work because she's trying to improve the efficacy of brief alcohol interventions among college students by using social network approaches."